The 60th Berlin Film Festival kicks off Thursday with the world premiere of "Apart Together", a lush period drama from China and one of 20 pictures vying for the coveted Golden Bear top prize.
"Apart Together" director Wang Quan'an, part of China's so-called sixth generation of film-makers, captured Berlin's best picture award in 2007 for the unconventional love story "Tuya's Marriage" set in the grasslands of Mongolia.
Quan'an, 44, will compete with Roman Polanski, Britain's Michael Winterbottom and rivals from across Asia, Europe and the Americas at cinema's first major international showcase of the year.
And Martin Scorsese will premiere his latest thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, "Shutter Island" at the Berlinale, albeit out of competition.
A jury led by German director Werner Herzog ("Fitzcarraldo", "Rescue Dawn") and including Oscar-winning actress Renee Zellweger will hand out the prizes February 20 before the event wraps up the following day.
"Apart Together" (Tuan Yuan) tells the story of a soldier who fought Mao's Communist forces until forced to retreat to Taiwan in 1949.
Decades later, the aged veteran returns to Shanghai to find the love of his life and their son. But she has since married an officer in the People's Liberation Army and is torn between her present and her past.
The picture will screen for the press at 1130 GMT ahead of a gala red-carpet premiere later Thursday with Quan'an and his stars Lisa Lu and Ling Feng.
The selection of "The Ghost Writer", a new film by Polanski about an embattled former British prime minister based closely on Tony Blair, was the source of some controversy in the run-up to the festival.
The French-Polish film-maker will not be in Berlin as he is under house arrest in Switzerland for charges dating from the 1970s that he had unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. He is awaiting possible extradition to the US.
The movie, based on the Robert Harris bestseller "The Ghost", had been considered as the Berlinale opener until organisers got cold feet.
"It might have been understood as a statement about something that we didn't want to get mixed up in," festival director Dieter Kosslick said.
The Berlin Film Festival, a creation of the Americans during the Cold War in occupied West Berlin, has become a must on the European cinema calendar, ranking second only to Cannes.
It enjoys a reputation for promoting edgy, politically charged fare.
The last Golden Bear winner, "The Milk of Sorrow" about rape victims during the 1980 to 2000 war between the Peruvian army and Shining Path guerrillas, has been nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film.
This year's programme shines the spotlight on Asia in particular.
Japanese master Yoji Yamada, the maker of more than 80 films in his four-decade-long career, will screen his latest picture, "About Her Brother", out of competition as the last of nearly 400 films at the festival.
Chinese veteran Zhang Yimou, another Golden Bear laureate, will present "A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop" while Koji Wakamatsu of Japan will unveil "Caterpillar".
And Bollywood heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan is due in town with "My Name is Khan", a look at the treatment of Muslims around the world in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
This year's 60th anniversary festival comes as Germany marks 20 years since its reunification. The Berlinale plans to pay tribute to the capital by staging screenings at beloved art-house cinemas throughout the city.
Another highlight will be an open-air projection at the Brandenburg Gate of the 1927 silent German classic "Metropolis" complete with lost footage unearthed in Argentina two years ago.